A guest post to motivate, encourage, and inspire
Counting the Days
I was counting weeks. The pregnancy, my third, was in the last swelling stages; the novel, my third, also in what seemed to be that final closing stage. I was determined to finish the book, at least a draft, before giving birth. I worked as though I were on the brink of an abyss. If I didn’t finish it before, I thought there would be no after.
I’d done it twice before. The baby and the book. We joked when I sold my first novel in my first trimester of my first pregnancy, and again, when I completed the revisions while on bed rest for weeks due to placental separation. The metaphors were obvious – I was gestating the baby and the book. The baby was delivered early, the book was not. I awoke from a general anesthesia emergency C-section, and one of the first things I thought of was the manuscript which I’d failed to send to my editor before giving birth. The second book, I’d managed to get off to my editor a few weeks before giving birth. Four years between books, we joked, four years between kids. Once again, I was due.
In the rest of my life too, I was madly productive, creating impossible lists of “organize closets,” “pull out old baby clothes,” “paint kitchen,” and, as though it were a task that could be as readily completed: “finish novel.” I wrote feverishly, inspired by the vision of a real maternity leave in which nothing of my fictional world pulled at me, in which sentences and characters did not compete for my attention. The day before my scheduled C section, I sent a draft to my agent and declared myself done. Done!
But inside, I knew it wasn’t really done. No amount of willing it to be so, no amount of effort, could hurry the creation of a fictional world. This was not a completion but a pause. Later that night, unable to sleep because of anxiety about all that lay ahead, I wrote myself a letter, titled “to me on the other side.” In it, I reminded myself of where I had been with the book and what I was hoping it might still become, feeling as though I were sending it to a version of myself who I did not yet know.
A few weeks after my daughter was born, I came back to the unfinished book slowly, looking over the pages as though they’d been written by someone else. I read and reread the letter I’d written to myself as though it were my sole guidebook to a foreign land I’d arrived in unprepared. There were days, many of them, when I could not corral my thoughts, those hazy post-partum days and weeks when I did not even come close to writing.
Then, and now too, there are so many days when writing takes its place at the back of a long line — when there is no choice but to live in a dangling state, of thoughts left unfinished, sentences undone, characters waiting, figures half blown, waiting to take their full, firm shape. There was no day in which I had worked enough, no day in which I felt the satisfaction of completion. Every day, I felt coated in a sense of undoneness.
And yet, to be a novelist is to live with the undoneness. It requires you to forge inside yourself an unshakable patience. Every day, I tell myself to quiet the noise, to find a small clearing in my head, and to do one small piece. As though I were working a million-piece puzzle. As though I were a craftsman affixing one tiny tile to a massive mosaic.
Those “one things” slowly add up. In the years since I thought I was done, the book has grown, changed in directions I could not have predicted, amid immense feelings of frustration and discovery, loss and recognition. That little girl who was born in my undone state just turned six — I was further from done with this book than I’d realized. There was no choice but to go back and continue to add one small piece after another. As a writer and as a mother, I’ve become acutely aware of the slow accumulation of words and of days.
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